I can distinctly recall the first time I really got sucked into attending a car show. It was 1999, just a hair before we witnessed how the Fast & Furious franchise could transform the tuner market into a cesspool of fake carbon components and knockoff exhaust systems, and the mini-truck craze was still in full swing. This was a far cry from attending Concours d’Elegance, but at the time it was one of the craziest things I had ever experienced.
As I walked through those massive double doors, and into the overly air-conditioned jaws of the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, my 16-year-old brain was completely rearranged by what I saw inside. Row upon row of candy-coated cars, classic muscle cars, and extreme off-road machines greeted me, and I haven’t looked back since.
Prior to that, my car show exposure had been limited to cruise-ins, parking lot meets, and hot rod charity drives, which after a while left me largely nonplussed with the whole notion of standing around listening to guys jaw on about the importance of his specific brand of synthetic oil. But this was a totally different bag altogether, and I was hooked straight from the start.
Twenty years later, my taste in shows has expanded and I’ve been able to move up in the automotive show world, allowing me to attend events, including the world-renowned Concours d’Elegance. Take Ault Park’s annual Concours d-Elegance for instance: Automotive journalists from the world over get the privilege of being able to get up close and personal with some of the rarest and most expensive cars ever made, and we went as far as doing a feature on the do’s and don’ts of attending a high-brow car show.
This year it was all about Ferrari, showcasing 100 years of BMW, the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1-2-3 Sweep of Le Mans with the mighty GT40, the All-American Workhorse — The Pickup Truck, and the cars of Donald Healey. While the showing was impressive as always, and the amount of material I covered in a day could fill the pages of a full-blown portfolio, I still had my favorites when it was all over. So break out your straw Stetson, grab an ice-cold Arnold Palmer, readjust your aviators, and let’s look at some fancy classic cars.
1. Aston Martin DB2 Saloon
Ever wonder where the “DB” comes from in the Aston Martin line? As the story goes, industrialist David Brown was the man responsible for many of the designs that made this British automaker a hit, with the DB2 being his first major attempt at making production cars. Even though this four-door version was not nearly as popular as its coupe cousin, it still has some fantastic lines; the one seen here from 1952 is one of only 308 ever built. Originally delivered to Mexico brand new, this silver surfer has made appearances at numerous high-end auto shows over the years.
2. Chevy Corvair Truck
Here’s something you don’t see everyday: a genuine “Rampside” Chevrolet Corvair pickup truck. While Greenbrier van versions and traditional Loadside variants were also produced during the vehicle’s brief 1961-1964 tenure, they don’t have the same attention-drawing ability. The side ramp proved to be a very useful addition when loading and unloading cargo, and everyone from delivery service companies to the Bell Telephone Company utilized this vehicle for transporting things like kegs of beer and heavy rolls of cable.
3. BMW Isetta
Here is one of the most adorable thing you’ll ever see in person. BMW says that 161,728 Isettas were sold from 1955 to 1962, after the German automaker purchased the rights to produce the Italian design and make it its own. Featuring a blistering 12-horsepower powerplant and a top speed that barely touched 50 miles per hour, the 1957 Isetta at the Concours came with a retractable soft top, sliding side windows, and only one door, which just so happens to hold the windshield in place.
4. Chrysler Town & Country
Now for something a bit bigger: a 1947 Chrysler Town & Country that claimed the lives of an entire Arkansas forest in order to be built. Wooden cars may be highly illegal by today’s safety standards, but back then no one really cared because seat belts weren’t even an option and doctors were prescribing cigarettes for stress relief. From the contrasting wood grain stains and the white wall tires wrapped around chrome dog dish hub caps to the wooden roof rack and the forward-facing sloped visor, this is what a real hand-built woodie should look like.
5. Nowicke Offenhauser Midget Race Car
This thing was just too cool not to toss into the Concours mix. It’s not every day that you get to see one of the most infamous open wheel race cars in American history; still sitting atop the original frame built by Bob Nowicke back in 1946 and sporting a collection of wins that include the “Hut 100” from 1961, this micro machine features an inline four-cylinder engine hand built by Offenhauser, creating quite the buzz throughout the entire duration of the Concours this year.
6. Ford GT40
This was one of the heavy hitters of this year’s show. While the Offenhauser midget car is cool, sometimes a much larger, much louder race car is needed for some perspective. Riding high on its recent victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford’s 50th anniversary of the 1966 1-2-3 sweep was forecasted just a week prior by showing the magnificent specimen seen here. Just getting this close to a historical race car of this caliber and hearing it pull scream into the Concours gave me goosebumps, and out of all the cars listed, it has my vote for best livery.
7. Toyota Publica
Now here’s something you probably won’t ever see again in your lifetime: This obscure convertible was originally badged under Toyota’s 700 lineup, which ran from 1961 to 1969, with this particular model being brought to the states in 1970 after a member of the military fell in love with it and had it shipped home. Featuring an air-cooled, boxer two-cylinder engine that only generates 45 horsepower on a good day, this little Concours time capsule is by no means a speed demon but a legitimate Sunday cruiser complete with loads of old-school JDM flare.
8. Alpine 1600 S
Feeling a bit blue? Well, so is this sensational 1971 Alpine 1600 S, which in our opinion gives one of the most positive spins on the phrase we’ve ever heard. Built in France from 1961 to 1977, the Alpine absolutely dominated the rally scene during its heyday, winning the World Rally Championship in 1973 and capturing the eye of adoring fans in the process. With its steel backbone chassis, fiberglass body, and 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine, this unique 1600 S retains the original factory roll bar and rally transmission, which is reportedly not the most forgiving gearbox out there.
9. BMW 2002 Turbo
The unassuming coupe pictured here is the car that helped make the street-legal performance motoring side of BMW what it is today. The BMW 2002 is one of those iconic collector cars that has really gained momentum with enthusiasts over the years, with the turbo model being the Pièce de Résistance of its time. Only 1,674 turbo versions were created between 1973 and 1974, marking the first time in history for the automaker to use a turbocharger in a production car.
Although it only generated 170 horsepower brand-new, the car’s lightweight chassis and enjoyable drivability made it a big hit with motoring enthusiasts who didn’t want to go the Datsun 510 route like famed actor Paul Newman. The version seen here retains all of the proper styling cues of the day, as well as the original Italian-spec lighting from when it was sold new overseas, which made it a huge star at Ault Park’s Concours d’Elegance this year.
10. 1952 Ferrari 375 Indy Car
Our final winner of the show is none other than a 1952 Ferrari 375 Indy Car from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Since no Concours d’Elegance cheat sheet can be complete without a Ferrari, we’ve gone with this modified classic, which is just one of four 375 F1 models ever produced for the 1952 Indy 500.
This shift occurred after the automaker was unexpectedly ostracized by a series of new Formula 1 rules, and it had to look elsewhere for temporary motorsport fulfillment. The No. 35 car pictured here was driven by Johnny Mauro, and unfortunately did not qualify that year, even though its 4,382 cc naturally-aspirated V12 engine put down 400 horsepower, thus preserving it from any race-related damage.